Kashmir's Monster Mahseer Carp Set To Make Comeback
SRINAGAR, India A giant freshwater carp nearly extinct in India's northern state of Kashmir might soon swim again in the shimmering rivers of the Himalayas decades after it disappeared.
The Mahseer, known among Kashmiri anglers as "tiger in the water", all but vanished after Pakistan constructed a dam in the late 1960s that stopped the fish from migrating to India.
Now, conservationists are breeding the Mahseer and hope to release them in rivers in Indian Kashmir. The programme is the result of a peace process between India and Pakistan that has led to a drop in violence in the region.
"We have bred this fish nicely and reared it out," Showkat Ali, joint director of Kashmir's fisheries department, told Reuters.
Ali said hundreds of Mahseer used to migrate to Indian Kashmir each year until Pakistan completed the Mangla dam in 1967 across the Jhelum river, the traditional migratory route for the fish.
The omnivorous red-finned Mahseer, scientifically known as Tor tor, is prized by anglers because of its huge size -- reaching up to 2.75 metres (9 feet) and weighing up to 54 kg (119 lb) -- and for its fighting spirit.
The fish lives in clear rivers and lakes throughout India and Southeast Asia and needs fast-flowing rivers and streams in the mountains to breed.
Finding enough of the thick-scaled carp in the area to breed at a farm in southern Kashmir proved difficult. Over time, enough were collected and fisheries officials plan to introduce young Mahseer into Indian Kashmir's rivers and lakes in coming months.
Two more breeding farms are planned in the region, including one in the Uri area, near the Line of Control -- a 740 km (460 miles) line which divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan.
Local anglers hoped the programme will bring back an exciting sport.
"I am sure, Inshallah (god willing), the return of the fish will attract more anglers to Kashmir," Mohammad Amin, 65, said. "For me, fishing for Mahseer is only a dream now, the last catch was 15 years ago."
To fulfil the dream, militancy in Indian Kashmir needs to remain under control.
Plans to conserve the Mahseer were disrupted in 1989 when Islamic militants launched a revolt against Indian rule in part of Kashmir.
Spiralling violence led to budget cuts and made the programme to unsafe for staff. But India and Pakistan's 2004 peace process led to the project being revived.
While conservationists welcomed the move to restock Kashmir's rivers with the Mahseer, they said it was crucial the government took a broader approach if they wanted the fish to remain in area for good.
"We need to look at this in more detail than just restocking," said Sumantha Ghosh, naturalist and president of the Mahseer Conservation Society.
"We must study the habitat and see what other factors are causing populations to drop and also introduce protected areas as they have done in other Indian states like Uttaranchal and Karnataka."